Work in Progress – Downtown Pittsburgh Neighbourhood Map

Lovely work here, with just enough dimensionality to make things interesting. The “3-D” landmark buildings are nice, but what I really like are the shadows underneath bridges and overpasses that visually lift them up higher than the underlying roads. Some nice insight into workflow, as well – the accuracy of ArcGIS combined with the visual punch some Illustrator work can bring.


Work in progress on neighborhood maps. This map is a part of lager panel that will show bus connections near light rail stations.

I always start with ArcGIS to compile initial data layers, then I style everything in Illustrator. Major landmarks are used to orient transit users in relation to the two-letter stops. The simple 3D shapes can be quickly put together in either Sketchup or directly in Illustrator using ‘extrude and bevel’ tool. 

Last preview of this before the first draft is released! Soon!

(If you’re looking at this on your Tumblr dash, click on the image to view the GIF bigger!)

Happy New Year from Transit Maps!

See you in 2014… here’s a final progress image for the year of the Interstates and U.S. Routes map: everything in the shaded areas is just about done, just parts of Ohio and Kentucky to finalise! Cincinnati is being… difficult.

All the best,


Work in Progress: Simplified Map of All Interstates and U.S. Highways

Map. Almost. Finished.

Seriously. Just a few problem cities to sort out and a couple hundred more labels to add (there’s over 3,000 named places on this map so far!) and the first draft is done. I’ve been working on this for about a year-and-a-half now, but it’s so worth it: this map is the most beautiful piece I’ve ever created.

Work in Progress: Label Placement

Still going with the big project! I’m getting really serious about the accuracy of label placement now, as you can see from this screenshot. The light blue guide lines (they’re drawn lines, not Illustrator guides) use a global colour that occurs nowhere else in the document, so I can easily select and delete them all when I’m done (There are literally thousands of labels on the full map). I’ve set up master labels for all eight cardinal positions, and all the other different situations for labels as well, including cities where multiple lines intersect.

When I need a label, I copy and paste it into my main document and simply snap the guides to a station marker: right away, I know it’s in the correct position, no guesswork involved. Then I type in the name for the label and nudge it left or right until the text lines up precisely with the the outer guide. Don’t think you can simply align your type perfectly based on the type point: each letter is different and will require some adjustment!

Of course, there’ll always be some places where these master placement rules will have to be broken, but these guides will give me instant visual confirmation that the rules have been broken, which can only help!

Note that the guides for the type on the left of the route line in this example align with the cap height, not the height of the lower case ascenders (which are a little taller than the cap height).

Oh, and check out my Layers palette, too: nice and neat and hierarchically organised!

Big Project — Work In Progress Screen Shot

Some people have asked how I’m going on my new big project — a simplified map of all U.S. Highways and Interstates on the one map. Well, here’s where I’m at currently.

Everything in the western half of the map is pretty much finished: the east coast needs to be revisited for consistency and there’s still a whole heap of work to do in the south east. I actually feel that I’ve left the hardest bit until last… which probably wasn’t the smartest thing to do, in retrospect. Although I now have a really good feel for how things should work in the grand scheme of things, so it’s actually getting easier as I go. The rules have been set, now I’m just applying them, like solving a logic puzzle.

I like how, even at this scale, the main “hub” cities can be seen clearly — Denver, Minneapolis/St Paul and Chicago have been the hardest to work out so far.

Previous sneak peeks: the Western US  |  City details 

Here’s a new preview of my Highways project to round out the old year. Last time, I showed an overview of most of the western United States: this time I’m zooming way in and showing a selection of smaller cities.

My decision to include all Interstate highways (even tiny spur lines) is having a very interesting effect. The small cities shown here — which on my previous Interstate and US Route maps were all rendered as a single dot at the intersection of roads — are having to be plotted with a startling degree of detail and accuracy to make the junctions between all the roads make sense.

Shown here are Boise, ID; Lincoln, NE; Duluth, MN; Sioux City, IA; Las Vegas, NV; and Salt Lake City, UT, each of which presented their own challenges. Of these, I’m most proud of Sioux City: finding a way to show the short concurrency between US-20, US-75 and the spur Interstate 129 as they cross the Missouri River to I-29 on one bridge, while also showing that US-77 splits from US-75 and crosses the river on a separate bridge to terminate in Sioux City was quite a challenge. Finding a solution that was also aesthetically pleasing and simple to understand was a bonus.

Sometimes I wonder what I’m getting myself into with this project. On my previous road maps, there were maybe five to ten “difficult” junctions like these … but there are multitudes of these small cities on this map, and we’re not even talking about complex “spaghetti junction” cities like New York, the Twin Cities, or Dallas/Fort Worth, to name a few! One at a time, that’s what I keep telling myself…

Happy Holidays from Transit Maps!

I’m signing off for the year to spend some quality time with loved ones, but I’ll see you early in 2013 with more reviews, maps, photos and my own work. I wish you all a safe and happy Christmas and an awesome New Year!

I’ll leave you with a progress screen shot of my big Highways project, which shows both Interstates and numbered US Highways (all of them, even those tiny little two-mile spur Interstates!). It’s really starting to come along nicely, although there is still a lot to be done!

Transit Maps will be taking a short break to observe Thanksgiving - I’ll be back on deck on Monday morning with new stuff to share. If you’re travelling over the holiday weekend — by transit or otherwise — stay safe!

To keep you entertained, I’ll leave you with a screenshot of progress on my latest subway map-styled project: Interstates and US Highways together on one monumental map (and I’m not kidding: this thing is currently 150 inches across!). When complete, I’ll be breaking it down into smaller maps of individual states and/or regions, but I’m doing it as one map to start with to ensure consistency. This is the Pacific Northwest, and it’s substantially complete apart from tweaking colours, and coastline and state borders, which I’ll be adding at the end.

- Cameron


Just a little more process. Merging real-world information with my styles, adjusting accordingly. The route lines have gotten slimmer in proportion to the streets themselves to simplify complex intersections and interchanges, and to keep things from getting muddled when you view the map as a whole. 

A few personal thoughts on Bus Maps as opposed to other transit types:

Whereas a rail map concerns itself mostly with the rail line itself, a bus line is all about navigating the actual streets. As this project develops I realize more and more that it’s a map of the city almost more than a map of the transit. There are elements of stylization of course — smoothing out interchanges, snapping the grid a bit, but ultimately the map has to represent the city. My goal is not just an elegant and beautiful transit map but also a completely useable map of the city. This is, after all, where the existing map fails so fundamentally — not as a transit diagram (though it certainly does fail there as well) but as a map.

Oh, this is looking pretty!